Cognitive mechanisms of risky choice: is there an evaluation cost?
Aw J., Monteiro T., Vasconcelos M., Kacelnik A.
We contrast two classes of choice processes, those assuming time-consuming comparisons and those where stimuli for each option act independently, competing for expression by cross censorship. The Sequential Choice Model (SCM) belongs in the latter category, and has received empirical support in several procedures involving deterministic alternatives. Here we test this model in risky choices. In two treatments, each with five conditions, European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) faced choices between options with unpredictable outcomes and risk-free alternatives. In the delay treatment the five conditions involved choices between a variable option offering two equiprobable delays to reward and a fixed option with delay differing between conditions. The amount treatment was structurally similar, but amount of reward rather than delay was manipulated. As assumed (and required) by the SCM, latency to respond in no-choice trials reflected each option's richness with respect to the background alternatives, and, crucially, preferences in simultaneous choices were predictable from latencies to each option in forced trials. However, we did not detect reliable differences in response times between forced and choice trials, neither the lengthening expected from evaluation models nor the shortening expected from the SCM.